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Congress Considers Bill to Protect Young Victims of Sex Abuse in Olympic Sports

Congress is considering a bill to help protect young athletes in Olympic sports. The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 534) was introduced in March and is co-sponsored by 9 Republican and 15 Democratic senators from 20 states. The bill was introduced in response to yet another large-scale sex abuse scandal; this one involves the USA Gymnastics organization, the national body governing gymnastics in the U.S. Currently, Senate Bill 534 has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Nearly two years ago, a news organization began investigating claims of sexual abuse within the USA Gymnastics organization. Since then, dozens of former and current gymnasts have come forward with reports of sexual abuse and assault by members of the organization including coaches and medical staff. The incidents date as far back as 20 years. One team doctor, who was fired from USA Gymnastics in 2015, now faces dozens of claims of criminal sexual abuse. A criminal case against the doctor is currently pending.

Three weeks after Senate Bill 534 was introduced, former gymnasts testified at a Senate hearing about their experiences. Each of the women, former national champions and Olympic competitors, testified about having been subjected to sexual abuse masked as medical treatment. For one woman, the incidents began at age 13 or 14. They also testified that the culture of the sport was so competitive that they felt they couldn’t complain. They feared that reporting any questionable conduct could result in being kicked out of the Olympics program.

The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 534) would do the following:

  • require reporting of child sexual assault and abuse at facilities under jurisdiction of Olympic sports organizations,
  • increase criminal penalties for failure to report,
  • allow claims for punitive damages,
  • provide victims with more time to file civil lawsuits, and
  • expand the duties of Olympic sports organizations with respect to developing policies and procedure to protect minors from sexual abuse.

How the Bill Would Help Child Sex Abuse Victims the Most

Title 18, Chapter 110, Section 2255 of the U.S. Crimes Code deals with legal rights of victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation, providing a civil remedy for injuries.

Section 2255 currently allows a victim of child sexual abuse to obtain damages in the amount of $150,000 or their actual damages, plus attorneys’ fees. Section 2255 also gives victims 6 years to file a lawsuit.

Senate Bill 534 would change Section 2255 in two major ways. First, it would allow victims to seek punitive damages.

Second, it would give victims more time to file their lawsuits. Specifically, the bill would give victims 10 years after the plaintiff discovers the “violation that forms the basis for the claim” or “the injury that forms the basis for the claim,” whichever occurs later.

In a practical sense, the bill would give victims 10 years from the date they discovered they were injured by the abuse. It is very similar to the New Jersey Child Sexual Abuse Act, in that the statute of limitations is not a set date. Rather, the statute of limitations period depends on when the victim discovers the act (i.e., realizes it was sexual abuse) or discovers they suffered an injury from the abuse.

The bill’s proposed changes are markedly better in terms of being pro-victim. Please contact your state senators and tell them you support Senate Bill 534.

For more information, please visit our sexual abuse law library.